Are school boards under siege this year in the General Assembly?
A bill in the General Assembly would strip the Bibb County school board of its power to to tax citizens.
There seems to be a general sense among state legislators that school boards are inefficient and wasteful, although I have to point out that the General Assembly has its own moments of inefficiency and waste.
But because school boards deal with children, lawmakers seem to feel they have a moral imperative to act when they see what they deem serious failings. (See mess in DeKalb.)
And there are troubled school boards out there. But some of their troubles owe to the continued slashes to their state funding by the governor and state Legislature, a fact that we must acknowledge in any discussion on why school districts are in financial free-fall.
But I do get a lot of emails from readers about Bibb. However, the emails are often focused on the Bibb school chief rather than the school board.
I have written about the ambitious reform blueprint of Macon’s new superintendent, the Macon Miracle. Superintendent Romain Dallemand’s plan contains 100 action points, including closing schools, a dramatic restructuring of grade configurations, a move to year-around schools, Chinese classes, schools of choice that students could pick based on their interests and dorms for students in need.
At a press conference today on his bill to strip the Bibb school board of its taxing authority, State Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, referenced Dallemand, saying the school chief at times shows “bizarre behavior.”
The Bibb County school board would lose its taxing authority under legislation being proposed by a state lawmaker. Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, is set to announce the filing of local legislation Wednesday that would require the school board to present its final budget to the governing authority of Macon-Bibb County for review and approval.
For decades, the Bibb County Commission approved the school board’s spending plan and tax levy. In 2004, though, Bibb County voters authorized the school board to set its own millage rate, and the board has done so since 2005. It was the last school board in Georgia to achieve that fiscal independence.
His legislation would reinstate the Macon-Bibb County Commission as the funding authority for Macon-Bibb County.
State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, said Tuesday that he did not want to discuss what he knew about Staton’s bill, but Peake did say he has been fielding calls from constituents who are worried about the school system’s finances.
“There’s just some real concern among our citizens that we are on a slippery slope to disaster, and it’s time we do something,” Peake said.
In a preliminary budget session recently, school officials said they will need to keep dipping into their financial reserves as operation costs increase and local and state tax dollars continue to decline.
Unless the district takes a different course, such as consolidating schools, the district’s reserves could go from nearly $4.7 million in fiscal 2014 to nearly $7.6 million in the red the year after, based on preliminary projections that school officials shared in January.
The district is supposed to maintain a minimum fund balance of 8 percent of its projected fiscal 2014 budget expenditures of $185 million, or $14.8 million, according to school system documents.
More immediately, the school district may have to adjust its fiscal 2013 budget because of an anticipated increase in legal fees and payments toward the lease for the Macon Promise Center that the school district is set to start paying in April.
WGMT Channel 41 posted reaction from school board members to Staton’s bill:
School board member Dr. Wanda West told us, “What disturbs me is that the board of education had not been involved in any conversation in discussing taking away its power to tax. I just think they’ve launched another battleship, when we should be forming partnerships. I don’t think industry will come, and this community will not grow with a house divided. Change will always take place… But, when the changes become that major, the people ought to have input. This divisiveness is killing this community.”
Lester Miller began serving on the school board in January. He said, “I understand there’s been some problems recently prior to my tenure, but I think with a new board, a lot of those issues can be addressed. What we need to do is put all this behind us and get back to the business of taking care of the children. It’s almost like the senators are cutting my feet out from under me. What’s the point of having all these new board members try to get things back on the fast track, if you’re going to turn around and tie our hands at the same time. I feel a little disheartened about this. Hopefully, the bill isn’t as serious as it looks like it might be right now.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog